International Nurses Day, celebrating progress in Kenya

Categories: Care.

International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world every May 12, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. She was an English social reformer, statistician, and founder of modern nursing. This day honours the services provided by nurses. They are often the first and sometimes the only health professional that people see and the quality of their initial assessment, care, and treatment is vital.

Nurses provide exceptional patient care and leadership.  At a time when palliative care services were scarce in Kenya, Ms. Anne Waithira Mwangi accepted the call to be “the voice to lead “. She was among the steering committee that set up the Pain & Palliative Care Unit at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), the largest referral hospital in East & Central Africa. She later became the Nurse Manager, Palliative Care Coordinator for the next 14 years. She retired from active service in February 2022 after spending 34 years as a nurse but remains instrumental in the provision of palliative care education and service to patients. “Veni, vidi, vici” Latin for “I came, I saw, I conquered” are the words Anne uses to describe her experience working in the field of palliative care.

She started working in Kenyatta National Hospital in 1986 right after graduating from the Kenya Medical Training College in Nairobi. As a child, growing up in a close-knit family in Murang’a County, she was not sure what her career path would be. She chose nursing after consulting with a cousin. Her first posting was in the paediatric oncology ward. Working with children suffering from cancer was quite fulfilling. In her own words she narrates: “In the paediatric oncology ward, I was met by young girls and boys who were always excited to see me.  This gave me a lot of joy. I would spend my time bathing the children and dressing them in their little gowns. I was humbled to realize that small things brought smiles to the children and impacted their treatment journey”.

Ms. Anne Waithira Mwangi with colleagues at KNH Nairobi.

She later worked at the Nairobi Hospice on a short posting to help them with locum duties and she enjoyed caring for patients needing palliative care. She learned about pain management, communication, and teamwork. This experience at Nairobi Hospice shaped her future career in Palliative Care.  She later worked in the medical wards and the Critical Care Unit.

“I would do locum duties when I was on leave, and I enjoyed this very much. I enjoyed going for home visits and making the patients comfortable which led me to run a daycare centre. While visiting the slums, I perfected my skills in pain management, communication, and listening. The doctors from Nairobi Hospice were impressed with my work and I was sponsored to go to Kirkwood Hospice in the UK for two months of training which perfected my skills in symptom management.”

While working in ICU in 2007, the hospital management made a decision to have a Pain & Palliative Care Unit and as fate would have it, Anne was appointed to be on the committee.   She was posted to be the Nurse in charge of the Unit, a position she served passionately until retirement.   The unit has served over 9,000 patients since its inception. Anne’s passion- for palliative care has seen the unit grow from just having 2 nurses and 2 doctors to now having 2 doctors and 5 nurses.  She has been supported by her team and the hospital management and the Unit now has an official clinic and is able to carry out mobile consultations within the hospital.

She has mentored younger nurses in the field of palliative care and has truly demonstrated her leadership skills.  Her contribution to palliative care services, education, and policy formulation in Kenya remain unmatched. Anne’s voice continues to live through time.  The quality service she initiated at KNH is a true legacy. Anne has other activities that keep her going. She enjoys farming and listening to music. She is a mother and a grandmother who dearly cherishes her family. “I enjoyed my role being in charge of the palliative care unit making sure quality service is delivered to our clients. Happy International Nurses Day!

This article is originally written in the Kenyatta National Hospital Newsletter and published with permission from Dr. Esther Nafula – Palliative Care Specialist and Head of Pain and Palliative Care Unit, Kenyatta National Hospital, Nairobi.

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